This is topic Dramatis Personae in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
We've discussed the antihero persona. How about villain, nemesis, antagonist, and protagonist? What technical criteria do these character types base upon?
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
My guess is mostly by point of view, and possibly motive or technique.

My hero is trying to stay alive, gain some wealth to change the life of his family. He just happens to be selling drugs on the street. The anti-hero or even villin is the police detective trying to capture my hero and put him away.

Your hero is the detective trying to uphold the law and protect the people, which includes his mother who lives in the neighborhood. The anti hero is a young drug dealer who just happens to avoid capture and his customers who are robbing and killing to afford his products.

The less you know about the motivation of the antagonist, the more evil they tend to be portrayed. The ultimate evil villain tends to be off in the distance somewhere with henchmen doing the dirty work. One only meets them when the hero gets there to stop them (at least in most stories anyway).
Posted by James Maynard Gelinas (Member # 10484) on :
"The less you know about the motivation of the antagonist, the more..." the antagonist will appear false and pancake thin as a character. This approach also diminishes the main character's motivation, as there's nothing known to oppose.
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
Villain: Smaug. We know little about this one-dimensional character (he loves gold), but he's one of the most memorable bad guys in fantasy literature.

Nemesis: Sackville Baggins. A nemesis can be the narrative's villain. A nemesis, though, has a personal vendetta against the protagonist. Smaug held no personal vendetta against Bilbo or the Company.

Protagonist: Central POV and hero of the narrative.

Antagonist: the villain.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Well, Smaug also had the ability to get under the skin of whoever was facing him down, though we only see it in action with Bilbo.
Posted by Sara Luikert (Member # 10487) on :
Denevius, I am not sure that the Protagonist is necessarily the hero of the narrative. For example, in Best Served Cold, Monza is the central POV but is certainly not the hero. The hero is probably Shivers, a POV but not central.
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
Sara, you may be right. I haven't read that book.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Villain's single technical criteria is a high degree of selfishness that grievously harms individuals and the common good. Villain vices include most if not all the gamut, from wrath to pride, envy, sloth, gluttony, and greed, to lust of great degrees and indifferently or deliberately harmful to others also to great degrees.

Nemesis's sole technical criteria is contention between two or more competing interests for a single goal, object, outcome, or etc., that only one entity can attain or will allow and denies to others.

Antagonist's technical criteria is anti-agonism, from agon: contest (contemporary English, agony); agonist: contestant; antagonist: anti-contestant. One agonist is an antagonist to other contesting antagonists pitted against each other for a prize, goal, object, outcome, etc., as well as compelling each other to put forth their greatest efforts, which inspires each other, perhaps positively, maybe negatively.

Protagonist's technical criteria is first contestant: proto agonist, be that first in appearance and by default most central to a contest, foremost central to a contest though not first in appearance, or foremost of influence on a contest's efforts and outcomes.

Likewise, deuteragonist, secondmost contestant; and triagonist, thirdmost contestant.

Smaug, for example, is overtly a villain, absolute in vices: wrath, greed, gluttony, envy, pride, sloth, and lust (lustiness for vices, less if at all sexual lust). Smaug's dragon worm, horned serpent nature is symbolic of satanic Western spiritual zeitgeist -- ultimate evil, somewhat monodimensional from absolute evil, though localized rather than omnipresent, and transcendentally multidimensional from those cultural representations, plus the multidimension of multiple persona roles of villain, nemesis, and agonist. Smaug is also a nemesis of the dwarfs. It keeps Erebor and the gold to itself and the exclusion of all others. The dwarf company is also a nemesis of Smaug.

The contest between Smaug and the dwarfs means they are agonists and, ergo, antagonists of each other.

Clearly, Bilbo Baggins is an agonist, and nemesis of Smaug, too noble though to be a villain. Who is the protagonist of the saga, though, is at least by default of Baggins' first-most appearance, centrality to the contest efforts, and foremost influence upon the contest. A protagonist aesthetic criteria also supports Baggins as protagonist; that is, his emotional maturation is most transformed by the contest's efforts and outcomes. Antagonism is a contest between at least two entities, each unequivocally and irrevocably transformed by the contest.

A hero's criteria is a selfless sacrifice for the common good. Smaug is no hero, nor antihero. The dwarfs are conflicted by selflessness and selfishness, thus not heroes or antiheroes, per se. Gandalf is a selfless individual and influences the contest. Though his ulterior agenda is prevention of or mitigation of the greatest evil of Sauron, he remains selfless from the start to the end, more or less unaltered; he is heroic though secondary to Baggins' heroism transformation. The meek and humble hobbit rises from non-heroism to the hero's occasion -- most transformed.

A POV, point of view, is a viewpoint from the perspective of a narrative overall, often from a narrator persona's perspective, values, beliefs, and attitudes, though not a narrator exclusively, might also be an implied writer, real writer, or a single viewpoint character -- a first-person narrative or a non-narrated third-person narrative. Baggins is a viewpoint persona; at times, Gandalf is one instead, likewise at times, other characters are viewpoint personas throughout the Ring cycle.

[ March 09, 2016, 10:34 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by ForlornShadow (Member # 9758) on :
Just a quick question: does a story necessarily need a villain? Agonist and antagonist I get that you need, otherwise I doubt you'd have a very good story. But what about a villain?
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Originally posted by ForlornShadow:
Just a quick question: does a story necessarily need a villain? Agonist and antagonist I get that you need, otherwise I doubt you'd have a very good story. But what about a villain?

No. The antagonist often gets painted as a villain (especially in film), but my personal favorite stories are the ones where all the characters are fleshed-out and believable. Villains are generally antagonists whose motives are so unexplored or deplorable that they come off as Pure Evil(TM).
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
'Story' is a bit vague. Scifi and fantasy fiction whose narrative bends towards action will probably have a villain. It becomes hard to justify violence against a character that isn't a villain, or aligned with the villain.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A story's movement only requires a character in crisis, or conflict and complication, and a transformative event and a setting. The primary conflict-complication can be the proto-agonist her, him, or itself, another character, a co-agonist, as it were, a villain, a nemesis, an antagonist, a hero or antihero, or an aligned individual who no less contributes conflict and complication. Of course, an event, a setting, or both, as well can contribute conflict and complication. A fully realized narrative weights proportions of at least event, setting, and character conflict-complication contributions, includes self-contributions and often outside contributions.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Originally posted by Denevius:
'Story' is a bit vague. Scifi and fantasy fiction whose narrative bends towards action will probably have a villain. It becomes hard to justify violence against a character that isn't a villain, or aligned with the villain.

Ahh, but see, that assumes violence and conflict are the same thing. [Wink] One of my favorite films is "The Prestige". It's got some surprising but fun science fiction elements. Very little in the way of violence, relatively speaking, but the amount of conflict is intense. Also, both the protagonist and the antagonist have about as much depth as you can give characters in film.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I have an epic fantasy saga in the works that involves generational, filial, parental and religious conflict, yet there isn't a villain to be found. Just different perspectives on what is right and what isn't, and an exploration of how far people will go to protect what they have and get what they want.

Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
I wouldn't call PRESTIGE *action* scifi/fantasy, though. It's more of a mystery leading up to a paradigm shift at the end. This is more like RINGWORLD, which also didn't have a villain but wasn't an action narrative. Mostly all the characters did was explore.

In 2016, though, I can't think of many popular novels like RINGWORLD.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
The book, THE PRESTIGE, is most definitely speculative fiction, and while the characters are much the same, the story has significant differences from the movie.

As for a story with conflict and no human villain or antagonist, how about Jack London's "To Build a Fire"?
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
E.M. Forester, Aspects of the Novel, disparages narratives that start and middle one type of action and then end with a poetic justice death, marriage, or both that are unrelated to the earlier action. John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, disparages melodrama more broadly. Melodrama is story movement solely driven by plot event pivots, like deaths and marriages unrelated to a narrative's central action.

The Prestige's title says in a double or more meaning what the central action of the narrative is -- prestige, the vice of pride. Titles that fulfill that exposition feature -- express up front what a narrative is really about -- are sublime and profound when they deliver on the promise.

Robert Angier and Alfred Borden vie for showmanship supremacy, among other pride-related contests. They are nemeses of each other for prestige. The Prestige is also the name of both magician's theater venue targets. An exquisite and expert misdirection feature.

The marketplace and culture overall categorized the narrative a fantasy thriller. Fantasy for the one impossible fantastical motif of Tesla's duplication machine; thriller for the prestige contest action and psychological horror. Effective psychological horror thriller is a challenge to master, possibly the most difficult of genres.

Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is likewise a psychological horror thriller.

A famous story that has no human villain, antagonist, nemesis, antihero, hero per se, no violence or action adventure, has a single agonist (contestant) in contention with the self, is O Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." The conflict is subtle background; the complication is foreground. Conflict of renewed acceptance desire and rejection concern. The complication action is straightforward effort to satisfy a personal though selfless want and problem until the inspired pivot end. Beautiful.

[ March 16, 2016, 02:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
The "prestige" in magic is also the thing that makes the "magic" work.

In the novel the prestige is absolutely creepy, and puts everything that happens into an entirely different perspective - which is missing from the movie.

Again, I recommend reading the book, especially if you have seen the movie.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
If you're looking for archetypical characters to populate your stories with, try these:

However, no matter how many character elements of the archetypical character you give your creations, unless your archetypical character has clear reasons for the choices they make in your story they will always be caricatures rather than characters, no matter whether they be hero or villain.

When we create the characters for our stories, whether archetypal or not, the hero comes easily to mind. We know in our hearts who she is, what she wants, and how she will react (and why) in any crisis or confrontation. We know all the secret wants and desires in her past, her present, and her future. Yet, when we want to place a character in her way (the antagonist) our mind's eye has no such clear vision. The only thing we know for certain at the outset is what our black-hat represents, be that evil, simple opposition, or the status quo.

It is a truism that for most writers the creation of the hero's opposition is a chore, an unwelcome but necessary evil that must be addressed. You can't have drama without conflict. So most writers create a character that is the opposite of their beloved hero: bad rather than good, cowardly rather than courageous, nefarious rather than admirable. And usually such a total cliché they become parodies of evil that ruin a good story.

The reason for this oversight when we create our opposition is that we rarely, if ever, wonder why our antagonist is doing what they are doing. As a writer we need our antagonist to oppose the hero, to do what he does so he can carry out our plan that we placed in his heart and head. But why is HE doing it?

Unless you are brain damaged there is always a reason why you do every single little thing that you do. It's a conscious choice you make; willingly, clearly, and aware of the possible consequences. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you do it because you choose to. You decided that's what you wanted, or needed to do: Why? The reason you lied, cheated, or stole is your motivation: What's your antagonists motivation for doing what he does?

There is no simple answer to this so you'll have to create his back-story to find out. Which is where most writers fail. No one wants to swim around in the psyche of a despicable monster, but you can't make a creditable monster unless you know why he likes to pull the wings off flies. Hitler had reasons for choosing to do what he did. We don't have to sympathise with those reasons but we do need to understand where his heart, mind, and soul came from. The same goes for Joffery, Ming the Merciless, and all the other archetypal 'monsters' we encounter in literature. Interestingly, the mind of the evil monster is far more complex than that of the simple hero. And unless you know why they do what they do, they will always be one dimensional caricatures.


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